Surprise Player of Camp: Stephen Nelson
With an abundance of talented receivers at June Jones disposal, it seemed like Stephen Nelson’s chance at significant minutes was farfetched. However, it took Nelson only a couple of practices to establish himself as one of the most reliable targets on offense.
Now, this doesn’t mean that he is the Mustangs best or most dangerous receiver- Nelson isn’t the fastest guy on the field, he isn’t very big, and he can’t jump out of the building. All he does is catch the ball. From the very beginning of camp, Nelson has caught every single ball thrown his way. He’s shown the ability to get open even and give his quarterback a target.
Once the season gets going, we will see if Nelson can continue to be the possession receiver he has been during camp.
Have to see more from you
There were so many position battles going on during camp and while some of them were won decidedly others kind of just fizzled out and defaulted to the safer options.
So even with camp ending, there is still an opportunity for some players to assert themselves and step into starting roles as the team moves closer to the Baylor game on August 31.
Cedric Lancaster, Jeremiah Gaines, Deion Sanders Jr.: All three of these guys had good, but not great, camps. With the emergence of Stephen Nelson as a very reliable option, alongside Darius Joseph and Derrikk Thompson,
SMU has a trio of receivers that will undoubtedly see the majority of snaps and targets. The fourth wide receiver spot is still up in the air and Lancaster, Gaines and Sanders have to show more to lock down their position or continue to rotate.
Lancaster looked really good early in camp, but his early spark faded rather quickly and he stopped making big plays. He is still one of the more talented young receivers and will get an opportunity to helps his team at some point, but if he doesn’t show a little bit more it will probably be on special teams.
Gaines, has great size, speed, and decent hands. What he needs to do is find more ways to get open. He looked decent all through camp, but never had any “wow” moments- there was never a play were the entire offense went crazy because of something he did. He has the tools, he just has to figure out how to use them.
Now Sanders is a bit of an enigma. He is a great athlete who makes a bunch of plays. Sometimes he runs great routes, but sometimes he doesn’t. Some days, he caught everything, other days he didn’t. Obviously consistency has been a slight issue. He has never looked bad- he has either looked great or average. We know he can be a dangerous weapon on special teams, but he can also be a dangerous receiver. He is so small and so quick, that he manages to get open all the time. And if he makes a catch with some room, he can make some people miss and turn a short reception into a big gain. He just has to do it on a consistent basis.
Beau Barnes, Cameron Nwosu, Caleb Tuiasosopo: Of all the positions on SMU’s roster, linebacker is the most crowded. There are so many talented players vying for starting spots that predicting who coach Mason will roll out is almost impossible. Mason has a bunch of guys that impact a game in different ways, he just has to figure who will play and when.
Barnes, made the move from defensive end to outside linebacker this year and has looked really good. Right now he is playing back up to Stephon Sanders on one side and Robert Seals on the other. Barnes is a big guy, and having him outside gives you the ability to bring him as an extra rusher or alternate seamlessly between a three man and a four-man front. The downside to Barnes is his inexperience dropping back in coverage. He hasn’t looked bad covering guys, but he hasn’t as good as some of the other options at OLB.
Jonathan Yenga has the starting middle linebacker job in a choke hold, but the second inside spot is up for grabs…well somewhat. As it stands right now, when Nick Horton returns, it is his job to loose. Horton has looked very good during camp and will probably have a great year. However, coming into camp, transfers Nwosu and Tuiasosopo were expected to compete for both inside spots. So far they have both been slightly underwhelming. When Horton went down with injury, neither Nwosu nor Tuiasosopo saw extended reps with the number ones. Mason instead rolled with Yenga and John Bordano inside.
Tuiasosopo hasn’t looked great, but he hasn’t looked awful either. From what he has shown in camp, he is an above average reserve. Coming off the bench and being in certain packages or giving guys a rest, will mostly likely be his role. With as many talented linebackers as there is, Mason will be able to sub guys out, without losing to much each time.
Nwosu, has shown the ability to make great reads and find his way to the ball no matter where it is. He has a great motor and despite not being the fastest linebacker, always seems to be among the first to the ball. Honestly, I do not think he has been given as many looks with the first group as he should. There must be something Mason wants to see from him before he gets the chance and if that is the case he better show him.
Who gets the keys to the car?
If I were to pick who I wanted to run this offense moving forward, hands down it’d be Neal Burcham. By far, he has the most confidence in his own ability. He has developed enough trust with his receivers and he knows the offense better than any of the other QBs. Matt Davis was expected to push for the starting job, but he has been disappointing. He holds the ball too long and is inconsistent with his arm strength and accuracy.
Davis may be more athletic and mobile than Burcham, but Burcham is quick enough to survive if the pocket collapses. The bottom line is, Davis is not confident yet in this offense and Burcham is. If your quarterback doesn’t feel comfortable in the system, he isn’t going to perform well. Burcham had the best looking arm in camp, showed the most command of the offense, and by far looked the most confident behind center.
Here are the keys Neal, just don’t scratch the paint.
Camp MVP: Darrion Richardson
Out of everyone I saw during camp, the player who had the most significant impact when he was on the field was Darrion Richardson. The second year safety made at least two big plays every single day. Whether it was an interception or knocking down a pass, Richardson was huge for the defense.
When he is on the field, he shuts down his side almost completely. If a ball is thrown more than five yards past the line of scrimmage on his side of the field, he is making a play. To me, it is very exciting to see a safety playing like Richardson. I think when you are trying to make a lot of turnovers (interceptions) you need a couple of things: 1) A good pass rush 2) at least average corners and 3) a couple of ball hawks at safety.
Richardson is about as hawk like as they come. When the ball is in the air, it’s like watching a hawk closing in on its prey in a high speed dive. He is fast. He is explosive. And he has a nose for the ball.
We are going to be seeing a lot of awesome plays being made my Darrion Richardson, and we will be saying his name a lot this year.